CHAPTER 29: Buried in Chicago
When I die, I want to be buried in Chicago — so I can stay politically active.
— Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY)
On August 26, 1996, I took off in a big silver bird for the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. As the plane did a long, lazy circle over that magnificent metropolis, I thought back more than 20 years to the last time I had visited the City of Broad Shoulders.
No, I hadn’t gone to make war on the Establishment and get my head bashed in by Mayor Daley’s finest at the last Democratic National Convention held in that city — although friends had made that journey in the summer of 1968. My visit was a few years later, and it had been in the name of peace. The Peace Corps, to be precise.
I don’t know what bureaucrat came up with this brilliant idea: Send a group of new recruits headed for the hot, humid jungles of Thailand to train in Chicago in the dead of winter, but on that frigid visit in 1973, I was outside my hotel exactly twice in a week — once to arrive and once to depart. So I didn’t know that I had missed what is arguably the most beautiful city in America — at least from an architectural point of view.
Frankly, I hadn’t intended to come to the Democratic convention at all. It seemed like a luxury I couldn't afford, either financially or timewise. The journey would cost about $2000, I didn’t feel right about taking that out of my campaign funds, and if I paid for it myself, it would stretch my personal finances. Even more important, it would cost me almost a week of fund-raising and precinct walking at a time when I was already counting the days to the election. But several things happened to turn that thinking around.
First, while my lobbyist buddy Mark Irion at the Dutko Group had grown pessimistic about putting together key electric-utility honchos for a big fund-raiser for me at the convention, he was certain he could get me on the Dutko “supercruise.” This would put me in handshake (and therefore supplicant) range of the top 100 Democratic donors in America — a captive audience for two hours on Lake Michigan. This had great appeal since my fund-raising lists were now near exhaustion and I desperately needed new leads.
Second, with Mark Irion’s help, I had managed to get myself on the convention speaking program. This meant that I would be allowed to speak on national television with a select group of 20 other congressional candidates. I can’t tell you how very big a deal this was. It would be great exposure for my campaign, and it would send the strongest of signals to the PAC community that my race was on the Democratic Party’s A-list, and that would help my fund-raising.
Finally, my pollsters and campaign consultant strongly advised me to go. They figured that my nationally televised speech would launch “The Apology” message like a rocket, and we could also use a videotape excerpt from the speech for The Apology TV commercial, thus saving as much as $5000 in production costs.
For these reasons, I decided to go, and I’m glad I did — although it would turn out to be not only one of the most exhilarating experiences of the campaign, but also the most depressing. I’ll get into that in a minute, but for now, mon candidate, let me give you a small piece of advice. When you go to a political convention, the best place to spend time is at the numerous parties put on by lobbyists. And you don’t go for food. You go to beg for money.
That’s what I found myself doing after checking into my hotel and swinging by the headquarters of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to get my floor credentials for the convention. By then it was 5:00 p.m. — prime time for lobbyist parties. I had the whole night ahead to cruise and a long list of parties to crash.
Buddy, Can You Spare Me Ten Grand
The first party was a dry hole — although it did give me my best laugh of the convention. Great historic house. Great food. Great hosts. But it was one of those parties where politicians outnumber financial donors ten to one. Not exactly a target-rich opportunity.
Anyway, here’s the joke I heard there: Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York gets up to the podium and with the same beautiful timing comedian Redd Foxx had, Rangel lets loose with “When I die, I want to be buried in Chicago — so I can stay politically active.”
Hey, you can get elected with a sense of humor like that and you don’t even need other talents. And speaking of Redd Foxx, I once saw him onstage, when I was 17 years old. It was at the predominantly black Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C., and he leaned over to this foxy woman and said, “Honey, I may not be as good as I once was....But I’m as good once as I ever was.” Took me 20 years to get that joke.
Anyway, if Party One was a dry hole (and Parties Two through Seven, for that matter), Party Eight was a gusher. This was an open house sponsored by the Italian-American Foundation. The head of this organization is a great guy named Jim Rosapepe, and I had first come into contact with him through the good offices of Joseph Cerrell.
Cerrell was one of the first and most famous of the modem political consultants, and he still practices his trade today with as much gusto as acumen. Joe is aggressive at promoting Italian-American interests, and when he found out that I was half-Italian, he immediately began to help me out. One of the first things he did was put me in touch with Jim Rosapepe.
Part 4 of 4 | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3